For a full time freelancer, the uncertainty and infrequency of work can affect you deeply and cause you to question where you’re going, whether you’ll ever make more money or if you should just call it a day.
Even if you are freelancing alongside regular employment and may not worry about when the next pay cheque is coming, your time management and motivation will inevitably be tested.
Freelancing can often feel like you are cycling uphill. We share how to keep the momentum going while balancing work with your health and happiness.
Have a clear path
Let’s begin with something that took me a long time to recognise and longer to address. Do not be led by the client.
It is common for a client to ask you to do something that does not fit into your usual work or style. As long as they are paying and it’s something that you can do, you might think, “why not, what’s the problem?”
It is easy to shift focus, from the work that you want to do, to the work that clients want you to do. You can be doing this without even realising it. But you should be able to recognise it: it’s work that is not as enjoyable and often does not fit into your portfolio.
The danger occurs if you keep saying yes to these types of requests. Before you know it, you are almost exclusively doing work that you do not enjoy. Then, the questions begin again, “why am I working so hard to be a freelancer if I’m not even enjoying the work I am doing?”
What can you do to avoid this? Have a clear vision. Know where you want to go, and make sure you are taking steps towards that goal. Keep producing and putting out work that you would like to do. Knowing where you want to go will make it easier to turn down projects that divert you from your path.
Managing projects and clients
It is important to set realistic project expectations. There’s a well known business mantra, “under promise and over deliver” which applies here. It is better to overestimate the time a project will take and deliver it early, than the other way around. Estimating how long a project will take is something that becomes easier in time, but only slightly. As a general rule, however long you think it will take, double it.
The single most important thing you can do with a client throughout a project is communicate. Share the progress of the project. Keeping them informed makes them feel part of the process.
Even after the project has ended, stay in touch with the client. Aim to build a good rapport with your clients. You should treat them like friends that you want to talk to. Do not be afraid to contact them regularly just to see how they are getting on.
You want to have about 10-20 clients that you are in contact with. Clients that are regularly in need of your skills. It’s much easier to nurture these relationships than it is to keep building new ones.
When looking for clients, do yourself a favour and do not work with anyone who wants to lower your price. Reducing your price has many knock-on effects and is a terrible way to start a relationship. If a client’s budget is low, then lower the scope of the project.
It is rare but sometimes you might need to sack a client. If a project or client is causing you an undue amount of pressure, stress or unease it might be time to terminate the project. Your wellbeing is more important than any project.
A big challenge facing freelancers is how to scale up. As a one-person operation there’s only so much you can achieve in a day. Which means there’s a cap on your income. An obvious solution is to increase your rates. You could also consider hiring, or bringing on a partner, so that you can take on more work. However, these options rely on having a steady flow of the right clients.
Another option is to make your own products. Products can scale up a lot faster than you can. Prints are always a good option, especially if you already have an enthusiastic fan-base. There’s countless products that your skills as an illustrator can be applied to but stick to products that people would actually buy.
Don’t forget about marketing. There’s no point making products that will never be seen. Make sure you have a marketing strategy and budget for any product you release, whether it is via social media, conventions or advertising.
Keep up to date
It’s a good idea to carve out some time in your week for general housekeeping. Update the projects and news on your website. Take time to ask clients for testimonials. It’s really useful to hear their feedback and you can use the best ones on your website or social channels.
If you are on socials, be sure to update your followers on what you have been up to and leave a few positive comments while you are there.
Lastly, it is much easier to manage your finances when you update your accounting spreadsheet regularly, weekly or monthly. If you leave it until the time the accounts are due, you will forget things.
Know when to pause
My final bit of advice is to give yourself a break. Take time out to rest and reboot. Leave the office and emails behind. Go out, go for walks, go to galleries, go see friends. Be conscious of how hard you are working and don’t forget to look after yourself.
Freelance illustration can feel like an isolated profession but there’s a whole community you can reach out to and share your experiences with. You should encourage those around you, share your knowledge, and help raise your field.
We hope these tips helped. Let us know in the comment section if we missed anything and what other freelance topics you would like us to cover.
Be sure to read our previous Freelance Advice articles: